Sport

England begin Commonwealth Games cricket without captain Heather Knight

The England captain, Heather Knight, will miss her side’s opening fixture at the Commonwealth Games against Sri Lanka on Saturday due to a lingering hip injury.

Women’s cricket is making its debut appearance at the Games, in a Twenty20 tournament at Edgbaston between 29 July and 7 August. Knight has received an injection in her hip in a bid to soothe some irritation in the joint, having missed the final two T20s of the multiformat series against South Africa, and hopes to be fit to return in the remaining matches. Meanwhile, Nat Sciver will deputise as skipper for the Sri Lanka fixture.

Missing out on the opening encounter will come as a blow for Knight with the 31-year-old describing its inclusion in the Commonwealth Games as “another gamechanger” for women’s cricket. Ticket sales are said to be flying and England are hopeful of success in front of a big home crowd – some of whom will never have watched live cricket before.

“We want to try and bring it home,” Knight said. “Hopefully we can entertain some people and persuade them to come to cricket again.”

The eight competing teams have been split into two groups – Group A (Australia, Barbados, India and Pakistan) and Group B (England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka). England can be reasonably confident of securing a semi-final berth, but it is the gold medal match on 7 August which Knight has her heart set on.

“When you’re a kid you watch the Olympics, you watch the Commonwealths, and you see the special moment that a podium medal ceremony is,” Knight said. “It would be super special to be a part of that.”

While Australia are firm favourites to win gold at the Games, their preparations for the tournament have been disrupted by a series of washouts in their warmup series in Ireland. By contrast, England are fresh from beating South Africa 3-0 in the T20 leg of their series and appear to have regained some of the swagger that was missing from their winter Ashes campaign.

“We’ll take a massive amount of confidence in,” Knight said. “The important thing is that we take the same mindset into a big world event and that we take what we’ve done so well and perform it under pressure.”

“Hopefully we can continue the really good form we’ve had so far this summer, the dominant way we’ve played, and the aggressive intent that we’ve shown.”

England gave debuts to 17-year-olds Alice Capsey and Freya Kemp during the South Africa series; Capsey in particular will have an important role to play in their batting lineup, especially in the absence of Knight. The 20-year-old seamer Issy Wong has also had an exciting summer to date, with eight wickets across the three formats, and may well be handed the new ball.

Knight says the youngsters have added “energy, rawness and fearlessness” to her team. “For us older girls, it’s keeping us young and keeping us excited,” she said. “I’m loving being a part of the early stage of their career, and trying to help them as much as I can, and just let them loose and give them the confidence to go and do what they do and show off.”

England will be optimistic of success on Saturday: Sri Lanka are ranked No 8 in the world in T20s and reached the Games only by virtue of beating Bangladesh in the qualifying tournament in Malaysia in January. However, England should take nothing for granted: they were beaten by the Sri Lankans during the 2013 World Cup, thanks to a Chamari Athapaththu masterclass. A repeat performance from the Sri Lanka captain, who hit 80 in 48 balls against India in her most recent T20 innings, is not out of the question.